Horror as a genre is fortunate in that it is able to succeed in simply being a roller-coaster of emotions. The audience is played like a piano, and when we begin a horror film, we expect to be unsettled and terrified by what we are about to witness. Unfortunately, making a genuinely scary film is a lot tougher than one might anticipate, in a surprisingly similar way to how difficult it is to make a good comedy. “[Rec]” is a Spanish horror film that is able to get into the action fast and from then on, fully succeed in creating varying degrees of terror and false sanctuary. Even if “[Rec]” doesn’t scare you, it is nigh on impossible to be truly bored by the brief affair.
Ángela (Manuela Velasco) and Pablo (Pablo Rosso) are filming a documentary segment for their TV show “While you’re asleep”. In doing so they follow a fireman crew on a night on the job which leads them to an apartment block that is having an issue with an old lady. Ángela and Pablo are under the impression that this isn’t going to be a serious assignment as it isn’t even deemed worthy for the siren on the firetruck. Upon arrival things quickly go badly and the crew find themselves quarantined inside the building with the rest of the residents in a state of shock and confusion.
“[Rec]” is another entry into the found footage genre, Pablo is the wielder of the camera and so we never see his face. As a result it is easy to place yourself into his shoes, we aren’t bound by the limitation of these events happening to a character that we aren’t concerned with, and the camera itself creates a first person perspective, which makes the events that unfold in front of it far more worrying. In “[Rec]” you can’t hide behind the characters, and this is used to maximum efficiency. The found footage genre also allows you to feel as if you are present during the crisis at hand. As Ángela and Pablo mingle with the suspicious residents, who all have their own take on the situation, it is as if the characters are talking to you, and to that end involving you in their plight. Of course Pablo isn’t a mute so we do hear him but he always feels very detached from the experience — Some may view that as a bad thing, I do not.
Subtlety isn’t something “[Rec]” specialises in, but it does so in the best way possible. The film is only around 75 minutes long and during that time Jaume Belaguero and Paco Plaza are able to create so many unique moments that each have their own individual merits. When one of the fireman falls from the top of the apartment block, I was shocked and clearly so was every character in the lobby. Turns out, the actors weren’t told that was going to happen, so those reactions were, to an extent, real. I despair as to the health and safety implications of this method of doing things, but the end result is pretty extraordinary.
As Pablo and Ángela traverse the claustrophobic apartment block’s flights of stairs, an encounter with a zombie is met with the most basic of fight or flight reflexes. The option is either to run back — where another infected will most likely be encountered — or fight back. The single file plane of movement of the endless staircase and the movie’s short length combined with its explosive pace make “[Rec]” constantly terrifying and it never manages to drag on enough to get old. Just when you think it is going to follow through the same motions, the end takes a turn for the more atmospheric and absolutely nauseating darkness. It surrounds the camera and the claustrophobia returns with a vengeance. It is pure psychological horror, and I haven’t been in a position where I’ve wanted to take my eyes away from the screen so badly since I first watched “The Blair Witch Project”. I mean this in the best possible way.
There is a small lull in the middle of the film in which it tries to establish each of the residents and it only partially succeeds. As a horror experience it is almost unmatched, I’ve seen it upwards of six times and I heartily enjoyed it on each occasion. A visceral experience that is intensely memorable.